The resources sector is cognisant that water is a valuable commodity for the community and must be used wisely
The resources sector relies on water to undertake its operations but also understands that it is a valuable commodity for the community and must be used wisely. Water for the resource sector comes from a range of sources, including surface water pumped from rivers, groundwater bores, rainfall and runoff, groundwater inflows from extraction of the geological profile interacting with aquifers, potable water and recycled water from all these sources collected on site.
Prior to taking any water from the natural system, all resource developments must undergo an environmental impact assessment processes both at a State and Commonwealth level (where there is a potential impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance) and hold the relevant approvals.
The Commonwealth Government introduced ‘a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development’ as a new Matter of National Environmental Significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in 2013 and established the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development to assess and provide specific advice on the matter. If the development is approved following this detailed scrutiny, consistent with state regulation, all required licences and/or allocations must then be obtained before works can commence.
Water is extracted, managed and monitored closely during operations to ensure efficient and safe production, a reliable supply is maintained on site and to minimise environmental impacts on the surrounding environment.
Access to underground water
Mining and petroleum and gas activities extract underground water during operations:
- Directly, whereby the interference or take of water is intentionally linked to production (e.g. taking water from a bore for dust suppression or fracking). Water extracted in this manner is referred to as non-associated water.
- Indirectly, whereby the interference or take of water is unavoidable during production (e.g. petroleum and gas activities de-pressurising a coal seam or water from an exposed coal seam or layer infiltrating into an open pit). Water extracted in this manner is referred to as associated water.
While the resources sector has the statutory right (or in some cases a licence) to interfere or take associated water, it also has an obligation to comply with the underground water management framework under the Water Act 2000, including:
- Undertake baseline assessments of water bores;
- Prepare baseline assessment plans;
- Prepare underground water impact reports; and
- Enter into make good agreements with landholders, where required.
Proponents must also measure and report to Government on the volume of associated water taken.
The take of non-associated water by the resources sector is required to be licenced.
During high rainfall conditions, significant amounts of water can accumulate on site and can pose a safety risk to operations. In these instances, operations may need to release water collected on site into natural watercourses. To maintain water quality parameters downstream of resource operations, there are systems in place and strict conditions on resource companies to minimise the impact of such releases into the environment.
Resource companies are only able to release under certain watercourse flow conditions (e.g. high flow). Companies must also undertake monitoring during the release event and report to Government on the volume of water released and its quality (i.e. pH and suspended solids).
Government also utilises it gauging stations to confirm (minimal or no) release impacts downstream, particularly near settlements.
Bioregional assessments, undertaken by Commonwealth science agencies in conjunction with State Governments, investigate the potential cumulative, water-related impacts at a regional scale due to coal seam gas and open-cut and underground coal mining developments as they exist in the present and into the foreseeable future. The assessments span across selected localities across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. These states are the four signatory states under the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. The findings of the assessments are intended to guide water management, and regulatory and planning decisions.